Roberts R-line S1

FOR Siz­able sound; clear and bal­anced; easy-to-fol­low app AGAINST Midrange has hard edge; more ser­vices needed

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

No mat­ter how many ra­dio brands come along with de­signer la­bels and funky mul­ti­coloured de­signs, Roberts will al­ways have one thing on its side: a rich her­itage built on trust and, as holder of two Royal War­rants, tra­di­tion. The Bri­tish com­pany has far ex­ceeded its hum­ble be­gin­nings over 80 years ago as a pur­veyor of ra­dios with only a hand­ful of em­ploy­ees and a sin­gle-fig­ure weekly pro­duc­tion yield.

Its ra­dio prod­ucts have seeped into the wire­less speaker mar­ket with much success: the Re­vival istream 2 and Award-win­ning Stream 93i, for in­stance, bag­ging five-star re­views from us. So maybe cast­ing its sights to­wards mul­ti­room isn’t so much of an am­bi­tious gam­ble as a nat­u­ral step­ping-stone on the path of mod­ern home au­dio.

Roberts’ multi-room Rline comprises six wire­less speak­ers, in three ranges: the Rse­ries, Sse­ries and a sin­gle sound­bar.

The Sonos in­flu­ence

While the Rse­ries speak­ers, with their tan leather strap and (op­tional) por­ta­ble bat­tery pack, look suit­able for an af­ter­noon pic­nic in the park, the two-strong Sse­ries is more like your stan­dard, main­spow­ered Sonos ri­val. Here we have the en­try-level model, the S1.

It has be­come cus­tom­ary for us to com­pare any new multi-room prod­uct to a Sonos, which is un­for­tu­nate for the com­pe­ti­tion. The multi-room mogul is un­doubt­edly an in­spi­ra­tion for many en­ter­ing the mar­ket, and Roberts hasn’t tried to hide that at all. Not when it comes to looks.

With a curved tubu­lar de­sign and grille wrap­ping hid­ing its two tweet­ers and sin­gle woofer, the S1 looks very sim­i­lar to the Play:1. De­spite the cheap plas­tic feel of the top panel and the but­tons on it, the S1's im­mac­u­late fin­ish is nicely dec­o­rated with sil­ver ac­cents, giv­ing it some of the retro styling that de­fines Roberts’ prod­ucts.

But the fea­tures list is even more im­pres­sive. Once hooked up to your lo­cal net­work, via wi-fi or eth­er­net, the S1 can stream mu­sic from your PC, NAS drive or Spo­tify stream­ing ser­vice, and play in­ter­net ra­dio chan­nels.

Er­ratic in­ter­net con­nec­tion? Off-air mu­sic play­back is also possible via Blue­tooth (there’s NFC for one-touch pair­ing) and a 3.5mm in­put on the S1’s rear. That’s one over on Sonos, cer­tainly.

Roberts is on a level play­ing field with Sonos when it comes to file com­pat­i­bil­ity, choos­ing not to fly the hi-res flag but tap­ping out at Cd-qual­ity. But it fails to snap at the heels of its com­peti­tor’s vast stream­ing ser­vice sup­port, which along­side Spo­tify in­cludes Tidal, Ama­zon Mu­sic and Google Play Mu­sic. Roberts will need to build its reper­toire to be in the run­ning as the next multi-room mar­vel.

No loi­ter­ing

We can only hope that’s possible, as, in­stead of in­vest­ing in its own pro­pri­etary app, Roberts has opted to run with Un­dok, a uni­ver­sal app used by the likes of Ruark Au­dio and Revo. Un­dok is com­pat­i­ble not only with the Rline range, but older mod­els like the Stream 93i too, and we’re pleased to re­port it works smoothly with the S1. The in­ter­face couldn’t be sim­pler, with most func­tions un­der three self­ex­plana­tory tabs: Source, Now Play­ing and Browse. It doesn’t loi­ter load­ing our var­i­ous mu­sic li­braries, and there’s very lit­tle hes­i­ta­tion when it comes to pair­ing and un­group­ing speak­ers. All in all, it’s a pain­less ex­pe­ri­ence – as it should be.

Hot un­der the col­lar

There’s a switch on the back to change the pre­sen­ta­tion be­tween wide and nor­mal, but even with the lat­ter ac­ti­vated there’s less to be ex­cited about in the sound depart­ment. Yes, the S1’s un­do­ing is nigh.

It throws out sound much fur­ther than its pro­por­tions sug­gest, and for that rea­son doesn’t have to be con­signed to small rooms. Rea­son­able de­tail spreads through a sound­field that’s bal­anced, crisp and snappy from top to bot­tom.

A vo­cal ta­lent, it seizes Nina Si­mone’s throaty vo­cal in I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, pro­ject­ing it with con­fi­dence and largely get­ting across the dy­namic em­pha­sis she places on cer­tain lyrics. But it is let down by a hard­ness that tar­nishes the up­per midrange, and that doesn’t set­tle down even after a week­end’s run-in.

While the sound­stage is spa­cious, poor tim­ing and or­gan­i­sa­tion gets the S1 a lit­tle hot un­der the col­lar when fed dense ma­te­rial – the labyrinthine elec­tron­ics in Front Line Assem­bly’s Dead­ened, say. The Sonos Play:1 is a more en­gag­ing lis­ten, car­ry­ing the track’s trippy dub­step rhythms with greater clar­ity and en­ergy, and of­fer­ing more in­sight into the lay­ered synths.

Roberts has suc­cess­fully strayed from its home turf be­fore, but this time the ven­ture is as much miss as hit. While looks and user ex­pe­ri­ence can’t be faulted, fea­tures and sound qual­ity need to be bet­ter than ‘okay’ be­fore we rec­om­mend it takes up shelf space in one of your rooms, let alone sev­eral.

The multi-room mar­ket is heav­ily in­flu­enced by Sonos, but Roberts has made lit­tle at­tempt to hide it

Con­nect the S1 us­ing the eth­er­net op­tion for the most sta­ble re­sults

VER­DICT The S1 is nice to use, but its av­er­age sound qual­ity puts it a long way down the multi-room leader board

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